Oakland is on the brink of losing another historic building — the Laurel Theatre.

In late January, the city approved a plan to replace the iconic theater building, at 3814 MacArthur Blvd., with a DaVita dialysis franchise and four street-level retail storefronts. Unless officials agree to rethink this, the developer may go forward with plans to demolish the building this year.

Area resident Dennis Evanosky, author of "Oakland's Laurel District," said, "The city did not do its homework. They did not research the business practices of the DaVita corporation. DaVita apparently thinks that they can just tear down the building. Do we want a kidney dialysis operation in the middle of a business district? The city also did not do its job to notify the neighbors. These are ample reasons to start over."

The Laurel Theatre opened with great fanfare in 1939. The architect was Alexander A. Cantin, who also designed the Orinda Theatre. A.C. Karski, who also built the Grand Lake Theatre, was the original owner of the New Laurel Theatre.

In those days, MacArthur Boulevard was still called Hopkins Street and it was a segment of Highway 50. Until 1948, the area was served by Key Route streetcar lines Nos. 10, 11 and 16. The Laurel business district grew up around this transit hub.

It has been nearly 20 years since the building was used to screen movies. More recently, a church congregation has held services there.


In February 2015, councilwoman Annie Campbell Washington mentioned the proposal in her constituent e-newsletter. According to her chief of staff, Adam Simons, the developer met with local business people at the property. Objections were voiced to the standard mall-style architecture of DaVita dialysis buildings. The developer revised the plans to improve the exterior and to incorporate four retail spaces.

But some residents maintain that the public notification process was haphazard, at best. The preservationist community was blindsided. No public hearings were held.

Board members of the Oakland Heritage Alliance did not hear about the project until late January. The only official public notice given was a listing in a Friday morning "project applications received" listing on the city planning and zoning website.

There are a number of things not to like here:

First, and of greatest concern to the local community, is the impact on parking and traffic. In addition to the MacArthur Boulevard business district, the site is one block away from a large elementary school. Parking is tight and traffic jams on MacArthur Boulevard occur daily. By the nature of a medical service business, patient transport vehicles would be doubled-parked on the thoroughfare and side streets.

According to city planning staff member Michael Bradley, no traffic study was required.

Second, a dialysis business would change the character of the neighborhood. Wouldn't it be more convenient for patients if this were located closer to a hospital? Third, the existing theater building lends charm to the neighborhood. No one has come forward with a cost estimate of funds required to bring the building up to code.

I urge the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board and city planning staff to provide a public forum to reconsider this project before another iconic Oakland structure is lost to runaway development.

Amelia Marshall is a writer who lives in the Laurel district of Oakland.